Johnny America


The Lit­tle Bitch


“Ka-the-leen!” Lu­cio DiLoren­zi yelled for every­one in the world to hear. He
was out on the side­walk with Stan­ley Miller, the pock-scarred man from New
Jer­sey who lived up­stairs in the sin­gle-res­i­dent oc­cu­pan­cy build­ing. Both of
them were hud­dled up, thick as thieves, in front of Lucio’s café, Café

“Ka-the-leen,” he called again for her to come on down the hill.

She was go­ing to the café any­way. It’s the nicest place on the street. She
walked to­wards them like they were get­ting her on her way to some­where else and
maybe she could stop for a minute.

“We need to talk to you about some­thing,” Lu­cio said. He had a dirty dishrag
tied at his waist and it flapped in the breeze.

Then Stan­ley said, “Sor­ry to both­er you. I know you got a lot go­ing on.”

She squint­ed at them both, then shrugged.

The girl was sev­en­teen but she could have been twen­ty-five. No­body knew
any­thing about her ex­cept she lived at the Be­lAir, which was a home for girls
who got there for one rea­son or an­oth­er. She smoked too many cig­a­rettes, and in
the sum­mer, when she moved to the street, she al­ways wore red lip­stick and
showed off her skin­ny legs. She laughed a lot back then, but by the fall she
was cov­ered up and qui­et. Thin, as if she’d missed a meal.

It was De­cem­ber now and cold out on the side­walk. The wind from the San
Fran­cis­co Bay swooped down in frigid gusts, push­ing win­ter in­to the sidewalks.
What leaves there were blew off the trees and then were scat­tered along the

But it was odd to see Lu­cio talk­ing with Stan­ley. Just two days earlier
Stan­ley told Kath­leen he didn’t like or re­spect Lu­cio DiLoren­zi at all. He said
Lu­cio was filthy and dis­gust­ing and Stan­ley was nev­er go­ing to eat any­thing in
the café any­more, not even a cup of tea. He had ac­tu­al­ly seen Lu­cio pick a spoon
up off the floor and put it back in the con­tain­er of spoons meant for stirring

“He’s stopped show­er­ing,” Stan­ley said. “Stopped shav­ing, too. The guy’s
gonna self-destruct.”

But there they were, Stan­ley Miller and Lu­cio DiLoren­zi, out on the
side­walk, chat­ting away like they had a mil­lion things to say to each other.

She was go­ing to the café any­way be­cause she was hun­gry and by that time of
the day Lu­cio start­ed giv­ing away the pas­tries. The lunch crowd was long gone
and the of­fice clerks stopped com­ing in for cof­fee so, if he had time,
some­times, he would make Kath­leen a sand­wich. He’d just bring it over and set
it down at her ta­ble. It wasn’t like she was poor and couldn’t pay for it
her­self. Not like Stan­ley who had prac­ti­cal­ly agreed to be poor for the rest of
his life. She just did what she had to do to get out of this situation

“Come on, Ka-the-leen,” Lu­cio said. He opened his arms up like it was a
great big in­vi­ta­tion and then he put a large, cal­loused hand on her back. “We need
to talk with you about something.”

A lot of what Stan­ley had said about Lu­cio DiLoren­zi was true. Lu­cio had
gained fif­teen pounds in the last two months af­ter re­turn­ing from Italy, the
great­est coun­try in the world. He’d gone to see his fam­i­ly and when he came
back every­thing was dif­fer­ent. He start­ed work­ing all the time and his face
didn’t look boy­ish any­more, the way it had back in the sum­mer. In the sum­mer he
parked his mo­tor­cy­cle right up on the side­walk un­til the city made him move it
to the street. The days were longer then and he closed up ear­ly to ride down to
the wharf. The clubs there were cool and once in a while he took Kath­leen. She
held on­to his jack­et and felt the sound and the speed and the wind fly through
her whole self and for a while she knew what it was like to be alive for only
one mo­ment at a time. She had a taste for things like that and he liked seeing
the awe in her eyes, so even if they couldn’t go in­side the bars and clubs they
sat at pic­nic ta­bles and lis­tened to the bands and the drunk­en men in suits
trip­ping out to their cars as the bay rip­pled and smacked the rocks beside

That went on for a cou­ple of weeks. But Kath­leen was in the busi­ness of
turn­ing every­thing to her ad­van­tage. And Lu­cio was mar­ried, and once she understood
these things about him: mar­ried, café, mo­tor­cy­cle — the awe was completely
gone, like the sum­mer, and then, like fall.

And now Lu­cio was al­ways smack­ing around that dish tow­el like he was going
to get a lit­tle crazy. The cus­tomers were drop­ping off so fast he got maybe a
hand­ful of lunch or­ders and the days of peo­ple hang­ing out were ba­si­cal­ly over.
His face was wider now and loose a lit­tle bit and he worked man­i­cal­ly, piling
up the chairs and scrub­bing the floor be­tween the ta­ble legs with cones set up
around a bucket.

Stan­ley would not set foot in­side the café so he stood in the door­way with
his hands jammed in­side his par­ka. “We got­ta talk,” he said.

Stan­ley lived right up­stairs in a tiny room with no TV. There was a bathroom
down the hall that he had to share with every­one else in the build­ing. And
Stan­ley was old, forty-some­thing, or fifty, Kath­leen thought, so it was strange
he didn’t even want a job so he could move to some place bet­ter. He act­ed like
it was all just dandy eat­ing noo­dles in his room and check­ing out library
books. He liked to study. Stan­ley stud­ied his­to­ry. His­to­ry is the best subject
in the world, he said, be­cause it is an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of knowl­edge. It gives you
the tools to work out prob­lems go­ing on now. He got this idea like be­ing hit
with a brick in the li­brary one day.

When Stan­ley used to come down to the café it was just to take a break from
all that study­ing. Then, just two days ago Stan­ley told Kath­leen that Lucio
DiLoren­zi was one of the prob­lems he was work­ing on. He was try­ing to figure
out Lucio’s brain, be­cause some­thing was se­ri­ous­ly wrong with that guy. Stanley
be­lieved he would find the an­swer in the col­lect­ed vol­umes of The Sto­ry of
Civ­i­liza­tion, by Will Du­rant. They were stand­ing up the street, out­side the BelAir
while Kath­leen smoked a cig­a­rette. The Be­lAir re­quired its young women to hold
a job or go to school. There were cer­tain oth­er rules. It wasn’t great. In
fact, the Be­lAir wasn’t even good, but it was a place you re­al­ly want­ed to hang
on to. The ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t al­low men up­stairs and they didn’t allow
loi­ter­ing out front, but there was an aw­ful lot the ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t know
about a young woman.

Kath­leen had want­ed to be po­lite about it. She tried get­ting Stan­ley to move
on down the street. She re­al­ly didn’t feel like point­ing out that some­one could
be keep­ing an eye on her just then. She wasn’t in a po­si­tion to break any
rules. All the same he was go­ing on and on about Will Du­rant. She lis­tened to
him and let it go. Stan­ley re­ferred to Will Du­rant a lot, and she wasn’t sure
about any of the facts Stan­ley came up with. The bot­tom line was al­ways, go
read Will Du­rant. The fact that one man could of­fer the world so much, and all
any­one had to do was sim­ply read his words, made it ob­vi­ous that everyone
need­ed to stop every­thing they were do­ing and read, read, read, day in, day
out, un­til the world was filled with bet­ter peo­ple, ex­act­ly like Stanley.

“It’s just mon­ey,” Kath­leen said, two days ago, part­ly to get him to stop
talk­ing. “He thought his par­ents would lend him some mon­ey to keep the café
go­ing, but they didn’t. That’s all.”

That was true. But to­day, out on the street with both of them there, looking
at her, wait­ing for her to make a move, she wished she hadn’t said anything.
Peo­ple as­sume things, and peo­ple talk. She hiked her back­pack high­er up on her
shoul­der and looked in­to Stanley’s face. He had an old stab wound on his left
cheek. It was a red, jagged squig­gle a cou­ple of inch­es long but it went deep
enough so his face sunk in there. Kath­leen had seen the scar so many times it
didn’t both­er her. She had spent so much time walk­ing around town with Stanley
and hear­ing all about how he was hopped by a guy out­side a club in Jer­sey City
and how he won this tax-free set­tle­ment that meant he didn’t have a work a day
in his life ever, that Kath­leen bare­ly felt sor­ry for him any­more. He was
se­ri­ous. What­ev­er was go­ing on with Lu­cio, Stan­ley didn’t like it one bit.

“Sure,” she said. She went right in­side the café. Ivan was there. He’d been
a reg­u­lar for a cou­ple of months. He was play­ing chess with a kid she had never
seen be­fore. The kid was maybe fif­teen and Ivan was an old­er man. He always
wore the same navy hat pulled down on his white hair. He raised his eye­brows at
Kath­leen. She dropped her bag on the chair next to him and slid on­to the bench
against the back wall. Ivan nev­er bought any­thing in the café but Lu­cio let him
stay. He said hav­ing Ivan play chess was bet­ter than hav­ing an emp­ty café.

“Be com­fort­able, Ka-the-leen. We need to talk to you, Stan-lee and me.”
Lu­cio wiped his face with his hands and then he wiped his hands down the front
of his shirt. He danced around the café wav­ing his dishrag at every­one. “Let’s
be open,” he said.

“No,” Stan­ley said. He was still stand­ing at the door and wouldn’t come
in­side. “There’s cus­tomers in there,” he said, even though it was just Ivan and
the boy.

“Too many sto­ries, Kath­leen.” Lu­cio stopped and stood right in front of her,
spit­ting out his words. “Stan­ley called me a liar.”

She looked over at Stan­ley but he wouldn’t look back. His eyes were fixed on
the street.

She had an idea what this was all about, but she had to think about it

“Can I have a Coke?” she asked.

The truth was she knew ex­act­ly what it was all about, but she could not
be­lieve that Lu­cio want­ed to talk about it. She looked at Ivan.

Ivan looked at Stan­ley and then at Lu­cio. “I have no idea what you are
talk­ing about,” he said. Then he looked back at the boy who was grin­ning, and
then he picked up a pawn and made a move.

“Cer­tain­ly, Kath­leen.” Lu­cio went be­hind the counter, be­hind the wall of
straws and spoons and the gi­ant black­board where he wrote out the daily
spe­cials with col­ored chalk. He took a tall glass and filled it with ice,
opened a re­frig­er­a­tor case and re­moved a can of Coke. Then he came out with it,
set­ting down the glass and open­ing the can, and pour­ing out the so­da over the

She want­ed him to stop. She smiled, say­ing, “thank you,” but he kept on
go­ing. He tore open the straw and put it in the glass.

“For you,” he said.

She opened her back­pack and start­ed go­ing through it for her wallet.

“No, no, no,” he said. “This is for you.”

She found her wal­let and took out a dol­lar. She want­ed to pay for it. She
want­ed to show them all that she had a dollar.

“No, no, no,” he said again. “You are the queen.”

She set her bag back down. She didn’t know what Lu­cio was up to.

He put his boot up on the chair across from her. “Now, we’re gonna talk
about these sto­ries,” he said.

“I haven’t told any sto­ries,” she said. She bit the straw with her teeth.

“Oh, I think you’ve been telling sto­ries,” he said. He wasn’t smil­ing now,
he was look­ing at Ivan and the boy and then back at Stan­ley, like he owned this
place and every­body in it.

“What kind of sto­ries?” she said.

Lucio’s face wrin­kled, but he held still. He paused, look­ing fast at his
peo­ple. And then he held out the dishrag, open­ing his arms. “Like I fucked
you,” he said slow­ly, “and then I left you.”

Stan­ley poked his head in the door. “Look, I don’t care if you slept with
her,” he said.

“You know,” Ivan said sud­den­ly, lift­ing his head, “she’s a very smart girl.”

He had played chess with her a cou­ple of times.

“Any one of you play chess with her,” he said, “I put my mon­ey on the girl.”

She had her back against the wall and didn’t say any­thing. She didn’t want
to talk about that. She tried to think about what some­body ought to say, what
would Jack­ie O. say, at a time like this? That was the on­ly ad­vice her aunt had
giv­en her as she packed her in the car. Think. What would Jack­ie do?

Kath­leen drummed her fin­ger­nails on the ta­ble top. “What hap­pened to you in
Italy?” she said, quickly.

Lu­cio squint­ed, and then he start­ed slap­ping his dish tow­el on his knee.
“Ma­ma mia,” he said. “This is my life.”

“It’s not the same,” she said. She looked at Stan­ley and Ivan. “You came
back here and you’re so se­ri­ous all the time.”

“Ma­ma mia,” he said again, slap­ping down the rag.

“Lu­cio, Lu­cio,” Stan­ley said. “The poor girl can’t sit in peace and have a

“That’s my busi­ness,” he said, get­ting loud again. “I want to know what the
fuck­ing sto­ries you’re telling Stan­ley. Look at him. He won’t even come

“What hap­pened in Italy? Some­body didn’t give you mon­ey so you got­ta make a
liv­ing all of a sud­den?” As soon as she said it she was scared, like somehow
just talk­ing about it would make every­thing good dis­ap­pear. She doubted
se­ri­ous­ly if Jack­ie O. had ever found her­self in a sit­u­a­tion like this. And it
wasn’t just the sand­wich­es and the pas­tries that might go away. She already
knew that, at sev­en­teen, sit­ting there day af­ter day. It was go­ing to take so
much more to get the hell out of there.

Stan­ley poked his head around the door again. “Every­body knows, Kathleen.
Every­body on the whole street knows what’s he’s do­ing to you.” He stepped in
now and he reached out an arm for her. “It isn’t right. He’s not right,

Lu­cio swung around to look at every­body. “What I don’t un­der­stand,” he said,
“is I come to this coun­try and I say, this is beau­ti­ful, I want to live here.
What can I do? I love peo­ple. I have a café. I say hel­lo to every­one. I say,
come in, eat, stay, be hap­py. Ivan,” he shout­ed, “didn’t I say that to you?”

Ivan had been look­ing at the chess­board. He raised his head and looked up
cross­ly at Lucio.

The boy was al­ready sit­ting up straight. He had stopped play­ing chess and
had his hands on his lap.

“Let’s be hon­est,” Lu­cio said, not wait­ing for an answer.

Ivan turned back to the board.

Lu­cio slapped the dishrag on the ta­ble. “I fucked you,” he said loudly.

“She’s sev­en­teen,” Stan­ley said.

“And then I left you.” Lucio’s voice was so loud now, and it seemed he
didn’t mind or even care how fool­ish he was acting.

Ivan shook his head. He was go­ing to leave.

Kath­leen reached for her back­pack and slid it up over her shoulder.

“Hey,” Lu­cio said, “this is not some game.”

Ivan and the boy were scoop­ing up chess pieces and putting them back in the

Lu­cio shook his head like he didn’t want them leav­ing. “What am I doing
here?” he said.

“It’s all right,” she said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“She says it doesn’t mat­ter.” All at once he slapped the rag and it flew out
his hand. “What doesn’t mat­ter?” He was yelling loud­er now and kicked the chair
in­to the ta­ble. “My café doesn’t mat­ter? Ma­ma Mia.”

She held very still. She wasn’t the kind of girl who could run away.

Stan­ley was right next to her and he held out a hand, but Lu­cio took hold of
her arm and squeezed hard so it burned. He start­ed shak­ing her. “Or that I
fucked you?”he looked straight in her face. “Is that what doesn’t matter?”

“No, that doesn’t mat­ter,” she said.

“Let her go,” Stan­ley said.

Lu­cio dropped her arm and start­ed pick­ing up the chair by the legs. “No­body
will come here any­more,” he said. “Is that what you want?” he said to Kathleen,
but turned to look at everyone.

Ivan and the boy were stand­ing there with their coats on, watching.

“Come on,” Stan­ley nod­ded at Kather­ine to step outside.

She took her back­pack, and had to go around Lucio.

“The bitch!” Lu­cio yelled. “The lit­tle bitch!”

She made it out to the street, fol­lowed by Stan­ley. Ivan and the boy were
al­ready head­ed up the hill. She watched for a sec­ond as the backs of their
coats dis­ap­peared in­to the Tenderloin.

Stan­ley and Kath­leen walked for a lit­tle bit, and then they turned the
cor­ner so the café was no longer in sight. She stopped and slid her backpack
off her shoul­der. She fished around for cigarettes.

“I’m re­al­ly sor­ry about that,” Stan­ley said. “I tried to stop him.”

“Yeah,” she said. It took her a cou­ple of tries to get the cig­a­rette lit.

“Can I walk you to your bus?”

“You don’t have to,” she said.

“Nah, I want to,” he said.

She in­haled and nodded.

“Boy, I hope you get out of here,” he said.

“Yeah.” They walked for a while and then they were there.

“You’re young,” he said, fi­nal­ly. “You know. You’re just a kid.”

“Yeah,” she said, though it didn’t mean a thing.

“You on­ly get so many chances to start over, Kathleen.”

She threw her cig­a­rette out in­to the street and wait­ed. Pret­ty soon there’d
be a bus.

Filed under Fiction on October 14th, 2010

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Reader Comments

Yet an­oth­er mas­ter­ful piece of writ­ing by Car­olyn Kegel! It’s al­ways such a plea­sure to read her beau­ti­ful­ly flow­ing, well-craft­ed work, full of love­ly lan­guage and quirky char­ac­ters. She has a tru­ly unique and im­por­tant voice, and I al­ways look for­ward to see­ing more of it.

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